PITTSBURG — Local business owners, city staff and educators gathered Tuesday to discuss the economic outlook of Pittsburg — and agreed it is going in the right direction.

A city employee, business owner and professor spoke about the outlook for Pittsburg’s economy at the Pittsburg Area Economic Outlook Conference — hosted by the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research. The three agreed Pittsburg is headed in the right direction, but also highlighted opportunities for improvement.

Pittsburg State University Assistant Professor of Economics, Finance and Banking Dr. Michael Davidsson presented his quarterly economic report on the Pittsburg Micropolitan Area. Davidsson’s findings are mostly positive, and he said the future of Pittsburg looks bright.

Davidsson has created a quarterly report since 2014 when he began studying the regional economy. In his most recent report, he highlights increases in revenue across several industries, job growth, tax collections and more.

The city even saw 79 new, active small businesses open locally last year.

Pittsburg has also seen a dramatic increase in home sales — 320 homes sold in the first quarter of this year — but this also shines a light on one of Pittsburg’s main issues.

“Houses sold have increased over last year, but the downside is these are not new homes from new home construction,” Davidsson said. “These are homes that are already here being sold.”

The housing market is directly tied to what Davidsson believes is Pittsburg’s biggest issue: population growth.

“Population growth is the Achilles’ heel of Pittsburg,” he said. “Without the university ... we would probably see the population decreasing.”

Davidsson said Pittsburg has a productive economy and great businesses with good-paying jobs. He expects to see it get better, yet population and per capita income are growing slowly.

Davidsson said this is because 70.9 percent of the jobs provided by major employers in Pittsburg are filled by commuters living outside the city.

“Not only are these people living outside the city and working here,” Davidsson said. “But the better paying the job, the larger percentage of workers live outside Pittsburg.”

Of workers with incomes between $60- and $90,000 per year, 82 percent live outside Pittsburg. Of those bringing in over $90,000, 74 percent are commuters. Davidsson tied this directly to a lack of housing that is attractive to these workers.

Davidsson’s research showed that cities with a flexible housing market saw a larger increase in wages, population and income in good times, and stood up stronger to recession.

“There are plans in place like the mid-city renaissance and Block 22 that will draw folks in from out of the city and make the city feel more lively and cosmopolitan,” he said. “But we have to have the housing in place for these workers and business owners to live here.”

He also pointed out that Pittsburg had a retail pull factor of 1.67, meaning if every person who shopped in the city lived within the city limits, the population would be 67 percent larger. The pull factor is larger than that of Wichita, Overland Park and several other cities.

Pittsburg Director of Community Development and Housing Becky Gray spoke about some of the initiatives currently in place to help improve the housing stock, such as the neighborhood revitalization plan and the Rural Housing Incentive District. Neighborhood revitalization offers a refund on property tax for investing a certain amount of money into additions or renovations to a home, while the RHID reimburses developers for the cost of infrastructure for housing developments — streets, sidewalks, sewer, etc.

“Outside of that, I don’t think we should be doing abatements, because I don’t think taxes are the issue,” Gray said. “I think it is the quality of the houses — like Michael [Davidsson] pointed out in his research — so our best plan is to get new housing stock and increase the quality of current stock.”

Progressive Products CEO Todd Allison said slow population growth may contribute to a lacking labor force.

“It is extremely difficult to find skilled, blue collar labor,” he said. “There are good things being done at CTEC with vocational and trades training, but it is still hard to find good workers.”

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.